What Does It Mean To Be A Teacher?

Picture yourself as an Educational Director or Educator search committee. There is a position open, and you have narrowed the field to two possible candidates. One is dynamic, outgoing, and will be able to involve the students in the educational experience. Unfortunately, his knowledge is suspect and inconsistent. He will make mistakes when he teaches. The other applicant’s knowledge is thorough and deep. However, he is quiet, meek and passive. He lacks the charm and charisma that will engage his students. Whom do you hire?

If this situation is unfamiliar to you, you don’t live in today’s world of Jewish education. This dilemma is more the norm than you might think. Even so, this identical situation was dealt with some 2,000 years ago in the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 21a (and again in the Code of Jewish Law, the Shulchan Arukh, 700 years ago). The problem is not new.

The answer commanded by our tradition is that you hire the teacher whose knowledge is sure. Better that the student not learn than be given inaccurate information. One can always fill in the gaps of one’s knowledge, but it is very difficult to unlearn the mistaken lessons of childhood.

The first prerequisite of being an educator is knowledge. You must teach from a solid foundation. It is not surprising that one cannot develop self-respect or command it from others without knowledge.

If the task of the teacher is to teach from what is known, it follows that anyone who does not heed this admonition is in real trouble. Lack of preparation or background only insures chaos in the classroom. Why then, do we constantly place educators in positions where they are forced to teach subjects outside of their toolbox? Why do we try to coerce them to teach topics they never prepared for? In our imperative for modern topics we have created curricula which are dependent upon teachers with specific skills and knowledge, yet we are not flexible enough to modify our goals based upon their strengths and weaknesses.

In a way we set ourselves up for failure by refusing to allow educators to work from their strengths. On the other hand, a teacher must love to learn. How can a teacher model for their students without providing behavior and attitudes for them to emulate? Education is a lifelong process. There should never come a time when you say “I have learned enough,” or “I don’t need to know.”

The task before a teacher is not to entertain or babysit. It is to impart knowledge to the next generation. Only when are secure in what we have acquired, confident of our ability to communicate it and constantly seeking more learning can we attain the self-esteem we so desperately need, deserve and seek.

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